I remember being asked, during the enrollment process at McGill, to answer to some private questions: gender, sexual orientation…
I never fully understood why those questions should matter to anyone, or why they are asked so often in university questionnaires. The way I see it, if you respect people and diversity, then you don’t ask, because you truly don’t care about the answers. I’m not here to complain about those questions, there must be a good reason why they are asked… but every time I have to answer, I find myself struggling. What is the right answer? Why do I have to think about this now, while I’m filling a questionnaire about an unrelated topic? Do I remember what I wrote last time? Is there an option that suits me? Am I allowed to check more than one option? And, most importantly, is anyone going to figure out who I am through my other answers (program, year, age…), and match my name to my answers to those private questions, aka my deepest secret? I trust McGill, and I think no McGill employee ever did that, but still, those questionnaires sometimes ask enough information to make people identifiable, and this is unsettling… which makes me think that, all in all, those private questions are more problematic than they are useful.
The first time I think I answered “uncertain”. I felt that perhaps there was some queerness in me, but I didn’t want to deal with it, because starting grad school was stressful enough. And perhaps I was cis and straight. I genuinely didn’t know. For all my life I have been having a bifurcate future ahead of me: the one I was taught, and the one I was creating. I was taught that marrying a person of the opposite sex and having children was the norm, so I just thought this was going to happen to me too, at some point. And then there was the adult life I was living, alone, free, strong and independent, with no desire to be in a relationship whatsoever. And I liked it.
Then grad school happened. The questionnaires asking me about my gender and sexual orientation. And then the challenges, the difficulties, the imposter syndrome, the uncertainties, the stress, the loneliness. And age happened, too. Being alone is amazing when you are a young adult, but perhaps it isn’t as amazing a few years later. You can still go on by yourself, of course, you don’t unlearn that. But you start considering bartering some freedom for a shoulder to cry on, ears listening to your worries, a mouth reassuring you, and arms hugging you more often than friends do. You also realize that, perhaps thanks to the grad school environment, spending your time with people isn’t as draining as it used to be… and you start thinking that maybe you can be sociable, and you might even be cut out for a relationship.
I realized this during a long, dark, snowy Montreal Winter. I realized that perhaps I wanted a relationship and could be a good partner. But this posed the question I had avoided for so long: a relationship with whom? And in that very moment, I finally admitted to myself that my past attempted relationships with people of the opposite sex had not failed because I was too career-driven, or too particular. They had failed because I’m unlikely to fall in love with a person of the opposite sex. I don’t have to date them and wait until I fall in love with them, like some of my friends do, sometimes with success. I have to figure out how I feel, what kind of person I would like to be with. Whether some feelings that I had labeled as “admiration” were, in fact, feelings of love. And whether the way I conceive myself out of habit reflects the way I truly conceive myself. All this takes a lot of time and mental energy. But I have no choice. Every day part of my brain is focused on my studies, while another part of my brain is working on figuring that out, whether I want it or not. When I read an article or book that is, in any way, related to gender or sex, I end up reflecting on my personal situation. When I read or hear something that seems cis- and heteronormative, I feel the urge to stop and consider how academia includes (or doesn’t include) queer perspectives, and what my role is in that. And when I decide to have a break and distract myself for a few minutes, I find myself googling keywords that might help me give a name to how I feel. Beside being a researcher in my field, I have become an amateur researcher in Gender Studies… too bad this personal research won’t gain me academic publications, or a double degree.
Now I am serene, at peace as I can be with what I am, even if I still don’t know how to call it. And I am trying to remember. Remember what I was spontaneously feeling, before society told me what I was supposed to feel. Remember my true self, familiarize myself with it, and let it breathe again.
But, as much as I want to give my true self relief, I don’t want to change my life overnight, rush into a relationship, suddenly change how I present myself, or get out of the closet, and this must be respected: my identity, my safety, my decision. With my own timing. I’m not ready, and there is no rule stating I have to do any of those things, anyway. Some homotransphobic people would have a bad reaction to my coming out, and I don’t feel strong enough to bear that. Other people, so open when it comes to sharing details of their heterosexual relationships, would treat queerness as a taboo and say “I don’t want to hear about this” as soon as I mention it, and I would be hurt by this double standard. Others would immediately start making assumptions and patronizing me, suffocating me and interfering with the delicate and otherwise serene process of understanding myself. And other people would not keep the information confidential, because they wouldn’t understand that while it is safe to be out of the closet in Montreal with them, it might not be safe to be out in other places, or with other people. And deep down they simply wouldn’t understand or respect my need to follow my own timing, decide who I want to be out to, and just be in control of this part of my life. I know from my personal research that these things happen. I know most of these people would do these things with good intentions, but still, they would do them, and hurt me. In fact, some of these things have already been done to me, by some of the very few people I came out to, and I am not looking forward to repeating the experience. So here I am, an anonymous guest blogger on the GradLife McGill blog… not asking for advice or help, not looking for attention… just sharing, without sharing too much, what a conundrum grad life can turn out to be.
As per their wishes, the identity of the writer of this blog post will be kept anonymous.